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Human resources managers all too often feel like “the bad guy” because they’re the ones who have to discipline employees. Even though issuing warnings about poor performance or problematic behavior is part of their job description, it can be tempting to wave away a single instance and waive the documentation of the problem, show mercy, and let the employee off with a word of warning, rather than writing it down.

That is a mistake, for a number of reasons. Here’s a few of them.

Warnings help, not hurt

It might feel like you’re helping the poor employee out by looking the other way when they make an “oops.” Actually, if anything, it’s the opposite. Your responsibilities at your company include helping the organization do its best, and providing employees with the guidance they need to do their best. If you don’t follow the path of progressive discipline, they can’t move past the problem, and the performance problem in question is likely to repeat, or even get worse.

Official warnings serve as a wake-up call

Even a serious, respectful employee is more likely to brush off a verbal, undocumented warning. If you make the notification of less-than-ideal performance official by writing it down, and issuing a written warning to the employee if necessary, it brings the point home. Making it official is more likely to cause the employee to think, “Oh, dang—I need to shape up,” and improve their performance.

Serious responses help shake out less-than-serious employees

Most HR professionals have encountered employees that just don’t seem to care—instead of taking comments about poor performance, or problematic behavior to heart, they brush it off. They act more like a bratty high school student than an employee that wants to keep their job. An official reprimand in a sit-down meeting with employees can help HR managers spot such employees sooner, and deal with them more appropriately and efficiently.

Progressive discipline sends a message to other employees

In any workplace, staff is watching, and they talk. If one employee is caught under-performing or misbehaving, and you opt not to do a darned thing about the transgression, the rest of your workforce will notice. The message they will take away from that is they don’t have to do their best, either, and productivity could wane. What’s more, you’re in less of a position to discipline your workers in the future, because you let that one guy (or girl) get a pass on their slip-up.

In the end, it serves your company and your employees better if you record performance and behavior challenges. A clear paper trail—and clear communication with your people—encourages better performance, reduces turnover costs and reduces liability from wrongful termination lawsuits, should you choose to show the under-performer the door. If you have any questions on how to handle and document performance issues, contact us—we’re here to help.